New York, we have a problem…

My title, of course, is a play on the famous line from the Apollo 13 astronaut who informed Houston of the serious mechanical problem the shuttle crew had discovered…a problem that seriously jeopardized the likelihood that the crew would be able to return safely to earth. I chose to use that line as the title for this posting not to diminish the seriousness of the challenge faced by the Apollo 13 crew, but rather to emphasize the seriousness of the challenge faced by New York specifically, and America generally.

To what am I referring? New York’s CATCH initiative. CATCH stands for “Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare.” On its face that sounds noble, doesn’t it? After all, who would not want teenagers (or anyone, for that matter) to have access to comprehensive health care? Comprehensive means extensive, full or broad. Many people have comprehensive insurance on their automobiles, for example, so that a wide range of potential damage to the vehicle will be covered by insurance. The problem is, “healthcare” in America has been expanded way beyond the treatment of injuries and illnesses. In this instance, specifically, CATCH is a program that provides birth control pills and abortifacient Plan B to teenage girls as young as 14, and does not even tell the girls’ parents. The plan began in January 2011, and costs the city $100,000 per month. Not until the New York Post did an article on the program in September 2012 did it get much attention, though.

According to what I have read, CATCH marks the first time that Plan B has been provided to students directly by the city of New York (though privately run clinics at city high schools have apparently been offering it for several years). Called by some an “emergency contraceptive,” Plan B can prevent an embryo from being implanted if it is taken within 72 hours of intercourse. In other words, the pill causes an abortion, by killing a fertilized egg.

There are several interesting thing one discovers by exploring the web site for Plan B. First of all, it is advertised as “a simple, effective back-up plan” to “regular birth control.” The FAQ’s on the web site state that the drug contains the “the same hormone found in many birth control pills, levonorgestrel, to help prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-Step® works in a similar way to prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-Step® is not the abortion pill (RU-486), and should not affect or terminate an existing pregnancy.”

So what is the difference between Plan B and RU-486? A pregnancy is considered to be “existing” once the embryo has attached to the uterine wall. Since Plan B prevents that from happening, what the pill does is not considered abortion by definition, because there was never a pregnancy.

While this may be a true medical distinction, it is likely not one that comforts those who look at abortion as a moral issue rather than a woman’s personal choice about her body.

Even if one agrees with the technical definition used on the Plan B web site, though (which I don’t), this entire issue raises serious questions. First of all, the public schools in New York involved in this program supposedly informed all of the parents by letter and explained that they could opt out of the program. Remember the uproar over Texas governor Rick Perry’s defense of the HPV vaccination program? He argued that since parents could opt out, there was no problem. Many argued, however, that this was an overreach by the state, and that if anything parents should have the choice to opt in. I suggest that the same is true with CATCH.

Furthermore, even the Plan B web site states multiple times throughout the site that Plan B is available over the counter for consumers 17 and over, but that a prescription is required for anyone under 17. How does CATCH get around that? Doctors working with the schools sign prescriptions for the students who are given the pill. That should raise red flags all over the place! These doctors are being permitted to sign a prescription–more than likely for students they do not know and have never even seen before–and are not even required to inform the students’ parents. Yet, schools in New York (and around the country) are required to have signed parental consent on file to even give students an over-the-counter medication like Tylenol. So if a girl has a headache, the school can’t do anything without asking mom or dad first, but if she had sex last night and wants to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, that’s fine.

So, back to the title, what is the problem? The problem is that the CATCH program is but a part of a growing trend in the U.S. that diminishes the sanctity of life and that allows children and medical personnel to bypass the parent in making serious, potentially-life-altering decisions, and unless we address this problem now, and reverse course, it will continue to get worse. And that should be a truly scary thought….

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